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Loyalty in an interactive digital market


The concept of loyalty is a very profound human emotion like love and trust. Loyalty is an outcome of shared values and experiences, forged with time. It’s not a fling, its about integrity, trust and dedication. Loyalty truly is the holy grail of brand relationship even in the interactive digital marketplace. When we think about loyalty between people, we know that it takes a long time to develop such deep feeling of trust. The same aspect of time certainly applies to brands too. Brands are concepts you can see, feel and experience, even have a dialogue with via customer interfaces and people representing the brand in question.

Well, think hard and consider which brands, products or services are you loyal to? I would imagine there are some. Then think, which brands show genuine interest in you, making your life easier, helping you, respecting your wishes, sharing your values, trusting you completely. Can you think of any?

Companies are quite good at “doing things right”, professionally and operationally delivering what is expected from them. The superb quality of certain product does create trust and loyalty as such due to rational and emotional consideration. This is especially true when your life could depend on that product. On the other hand companies are not that good at “doing the right thing”. Doing the right thing has to do with a context of engagement, feeling of fairness and trust. If your phone breaks a day after the guarantee closes, what does the company do? In case you have bad luck and you fall behind you payments for some period of time, what does the company do then? If the company has a choice between 10% higher profit margin and environmental or societal benefit, which will they choose? There is a lot of data that shows, how profitable “doing the right thing” actually is in case of reclamation. When you do the right thing, listen to your customer, pay attention and do your very best to make things right, the customers reward such deed with their wallets and hearts.
So, my advice for brands is coming straight out of the Bible, Matthew 7:12, The Golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” This truth is eternal and applies to Brands on- and offline just as it does to people. Loyalty truly is a concept that takes time to evolve and it can only be earned over time.
Well, the concept of loyalty, in case of commercial operation, means that brands are measuring their brand loyalty with KPI’s like RFP analysis (recency, frequency and monetary), length of customer relationships, life-time-value, share of wallet and Net Promoter Score. All of these measures have to do with loyalty, but they could also be about something else. Not all behavior that appears to be loyal has to do with the concept above. Let’s take a look at commercial loyalty strategies:
1. Rational Loyalty
2. Emotional Loyalty
3. Habit based loyalty
4. Imprinted customers
5. Legal loyalty
6. Structural bonds
Rational loyalty
Most loyalty programs don’t deliver brand loyalty, really. That is due to the fact that people have all loyalty cards and they pick cherries from where ever they happen to find best offer at that point in time. Points based loyalty programs are often buying loyalty from customer. You get more discount when you buy more and you get offers only available for members. Loyalty can be completely rationally driven model that create a behavioral pattern for customers to buy when it’s cheap. Naturally, they don’t if you don’t have an offer for them. In the open online market its very easy make comparisons.
Most often, members also get bulk messaging in which there is nothing personal. A membership equals the license to sell. Selling is often positive. Customers consider selling as active relationship in which the company is offering new services and value for them (servicing by selling). Buying several products or services from a single company generate stronger relationship and lower attrition probability. Everything above is basically positive, better than no program. However, when customer relationship is based on rational decision, another company with more aggressive approach can do considerable damage.

Emotional loyalty
Emotional loyalty has to do with the true concept of Loyalty. Brand as a whole has its foundation in customer experience, quality, integrity, service, ethics, trust, corporate responsibility and values. If the brand feels right for the customer he’s less likely to consider competitors. Also, the loved brands become part of customer’s own identity and they don’t lose customers without warning. If customers truly love your brand, they let you know if your pricing or position is having a strong challenger and they actively ask your approach to the situation. Emotional loyalty is not price driven. You can have healthy margins and customers accept it. In such a position customers also offer their helping hand and are much more open to participate in open innovation or co-creation dialogue or giving you advice how to improve your service even further.
In current business environment there’s too much of everything all the time. It’s very difficult to differentiate yourself by offering or pricing. The truly emotionally driven approach to loyalty is to consider how the company can show it’s loyalty towards customers. How do you take care of your customers? How do you make certain that the value you are delivering to your customer becomes even higher? How do you solve problems that your customers have?

Habit based loyalty
In most businesses there comes a time when customers re-consider whether to buy the same brand again or to buy something else. If the customer is involved in continuous relationship it requires active sign-off from the current relationship. If you can turn single purchases in to continuous relationships in any way, you are likely to drive much higher loyalty. That’s the best part. Once the customer is engaged in continuous relationship it requires time and effort to close it. The bigger the required effort is, the less like people are to go thru with it. Some of the best psychological themes for loyalty are laziness and minimizing points of discontinuity creating experiences like billing. One of the great ways of improving loyalty is allowing customers to have automatic payment methods directly from account or via credit card (eg. Netflix and Spotify). As a result customer does not get direct invoice for the service delivered but it’s included in credit card invoice or directly paid from account. Attrition probability drop is quite significant with such a method and the relationships could continue for as long as the credit card is valid.
When people establish behavioral patterns like reading a newspaper every morning, their likelihood of attrition is much lower. Habit based loyalty is really about keeping the status quo. Low profile and making certain that there is no need for active consideration for the customer enable very profitable type of loyalty.
I have have been completely loyal to LensOn contact lens selling online store for the past four years. This is because they send me an email enabling me to repeat purchase with only two clicks. I didn’t even remember the brand, but in case I didn’t order instantly I would go back to my email and search: “contact lenses”. This search will bring me the email I am looking for and with only two clicks I’ll order new package of contact lenses. Because my credit card information is already stored in the service, this habit is extremely easy for LensOn to maintain.
Another fantastic case of habitual loyalty is online banking. The first online bank was issued in Finland and since then the whole retail banking has changed completely. People no longer have a reason to go to the bank. They can take care of all their finances online. As an outcome people have become user interface loyal. Only in case of major need for relationship driver service, like mortgage, people would consider changing their bank relationship. Online banking is like electricity, as long as you get it when you need it, there’s no problem. If you don’t, you have a major problem. If the service keeps on going there’s nothing to question the current relationship. Online banking enabled huge cost cuts and automated service processes. Cost to serve is now marginal. Once online banking was introduced and became a habit for customers, the vast majority of customers became profitable. Banking margins and profits have grown and the profitability has increased without attrition.

Imprinted loyalty
Customers are not necessarily loyal to the company, but person they are in a relationship with. If customers get imprinted to their counterpart and the person stays with the company, relationships could be very strong emotionally, rationally and habitually. Trusted person can be an enormous asset for a company. The online revolution has diminished the role of person-to-person relationships in consumer businesses. The role of brands and trust in service processes has substituted the void to some extent. It’s not quite the same but works too.
The company’s customer interfaces and people servicing customers should still be trained to reach for such relationships. The brand is as good as the person representing it. Some major hairdresser chains evaluate their employees based on the fact, how many of the hairdresser’s customers book their next visit from the same hairdresser. This measure is beautifully simple and revealing. Being a great hairdresser is not just about the quality of your work, it’s very much about the whole experience. Especially women open up and discuss at the hairdresser. They could easily spend two hours with the hairdresser and spend a lot of money on the experience. It’s about being heard, appreciated and pampered along with getting your hair cut and dyed.

Legal (Contractual) Loyalty
Mobile operators in Finland suffered from very high attrition rates after number portability was enabled. Churn rates reached +30% level even though customers were very happy with their operators. This is a great case proving that customer satisfaction DOES NOT EQUAL loyalty. Customers want to have a new mobile phone every two to three years. The need to get a new handset created natural discontinuity to relationships. Mobile operators have an orientation to offer good deals for new customers and winning higher share of dynamic market. This orientation led to higher advantage for changing a company than staying with the current one. These operators had same level of perceived value and customers had rarely real preference. Most customers had only options that were equally good in general. Only differentiating factors were the brand communications and current offers.
The operators started selling customers 12 month agreements, which offered lower cost calls in the evenings or weekends. These agreements sold quite well and led to lower attrition rates. Once 3G bundles were introduced they included 24 month agreement and were sold with handset subsidies. Against your 24 months agreement you got the mobile phone at about half price. These agreements dropped attrition rates below 10%. In other words agreements offered steady relationships and predictability. As a result mobile operators profits increased and people purchased more expensive mobile phones, which enabled major increase in the use of data creating completely new mass market. Everybody won. After the 24 month agreements ended, the attrition rates increased back to 15-20%. Although the attrition rate increased, they didn’t reach previously familiar 30% rates.
Human nature is lazy and towards many product and service ranges, indifferent. In order to gain market share in a business like this brand has to actively sell and create discontinuity with sales. Electricity agreements are a great example of this. Very few people compare electricity pricing and actively change a power company unless it’s actively sold. When you get a call offering you -5-10% and the offered power is produced with water and greener than your current option, it’s easy to agree. Even better, the new company also close the previous deal so that the only thing you need to do is say ”yes” on phone. It is possible to surprise a competitor with heavy attack in a case like this. Unless the competitor has closed agreements for certain period of time, they are likely to lose a lot of customers almost over night. Who would start comparing for 5%? Very few would. Who would accept such offer when it doesn’t require any effort? Quite many will. Only thing hindering people to accept such an offer would be to tie them in the relationship with an agreement for certain period of time.
Loyalty by structural Bond
What could you sell your customer to make him dependent on you? Structural bond is an interesting approach to loyalty and how to create value in which the customer becomes dependent on.
When Polar Electro introduced their wrist top computers with heart rate monitoring they soon created online Personal Trainer in the end of 1990’s to supplement additional training advice for users beyond possibilities of the cadget in it self. Personal Trainer recorded all your training to a database and created record. It helped analyzing your training requirements and results very effectively. In the early 2000 this was a ground-breaking innovation. When all your training history was online, Polar Electro had a structural bond on you. If you wanted to change to more advance training tools, you had to buy another Polar wrist-top-computer in case you wanted to keep your training record ongoing. Currently mobile phones have same functions and you can use variety of platforms for storing your data eg. Samsung back-up, Apple iCloud or Android saving to Google account. These platforms effectively still create structural bond although some of them are now cadget independent and available to iPhone, Nokia and android. Still, Polar Electro’s Training Tool is an effective loyalty driver for everyone who has been using it for the past decade. The current rush to “internet of things” will produce massive offering of services just like Polar Electro’s training tool. As this market is only just opening, every brand should consider right now, how can they lock their customers in.

Facebook also has a strong structural bond, your friends that are already there. When everyone is already there, it becomes very difficult to leave and completely stop using it. It is also very challenging for other services to get really active users, because Facebook is a strong habit and it holds your entire social life and has become big part of yourself – part of who you are and how you represent yourself to the world.

Attrition
No matter what you do, some customers will leave eventually. Still, applying effective win back strategies could diminish negative churn. One telecom company actually managed to win back 80% of already lost customers. Win back operation was probably the most profitable function the company had ever created.

Just one more advice, when you are trying to develop your company’s customer relationship excellence, you can’t just look at the customers who are happy and satisfied. Their responses will only strengthen the status quo and hinder innovation and adaptation to changing business environment. Lost customers on the other hand are a great source of insight and improvement advice. Any information that help you predict discontinuity, increase the probability of re-purchase, or shield customers from competitors influence and decrease retention clearly increase profitability.

Loyalty certainly is something worth thriving for. Just remember the Golden rule when you are making choices – even though you work in the interactive digital market place.

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Symbiosis strategy – Creating the ultimate customer value proposition

Whenever two organisms of different species exist in close physical contact to the benefit of both organisms, that’s symbiosis. Symbiosis can occur between animals, plants, fungi or any combination thereof. Each organism contributes something that benefits the survival of the other, and in turn receives a survival benefit of its own. This is business version of Symbiosis as a strategy

Wikipedia: Symbiosis (from Ancient Greek sýn “with” and bíōsis “living“)[1] is close and often long-term interactions between different biological species. In 1877 Bennett used the word symbiosis (which previously had been used of people living together in community) to describe the mutualistic relationship in lichens.[2] In 1879 by the German mycologist Heinrich Anton de Bary, defined it as “the living together of unlike organisms.”

When talking about Symbiosis, we are looking for the possibility of the ultimate value proposition for a customer, which is impossible to produce alone. We consider Symbiosis model as a major evolutionary concept and strategic approach to collaboratively create value that would be impossible to deliver alone.  The idea of Symbiosis between customer and company can be described with levels of synergy: a) product centric b) customer centric c) sybiosis

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Symbiosis

The idea of Symbiosis was an outcome from the first meeting I had with Jarmo Lipiäinen when we started writing Customer Journey Management – the book. It was there all along but became more and more exciting as we really started working on it. We came to conclusion that Symbiosis is also possible and doable in many forms in business as it is in nature. The driving force for the Symbiosis is to find the ultimate value proposition and create collaboration in order to achieve it. Most often the ultimate value is a blind spot for companies in certain business sector just because it is impossible to reach solo.

Writers and ideologies that we have been influenced by are C.K. Parahalad’s texts about open innovation and how to co-create value with consumers. Co-creation and open innovation have become major methodologies for corporate development for a reason and proved that people are prepared to engage in dialogue with companies as long as it is relevant and mutually rewarding mentally and financially. The final confirmation for our thinking was Michael Porter’s article about how to create shared value and re-create capitalism in Harward Business Review 1/2011. Here’s Mr. Porters speach about the approach

Models of Symbiosis

Symbiosis can be based on direct collaboration between company and customer or between companies creating value together for customer. In Michael Porters shared value theory the symbiosis is between society and business. We came to conclusion that there are four general models of symbiosis which can also be combined:

  1. Shared Value = Symbiosis between society and business
  2. Platform/standard based = Symbiosis between platform owner, partners and customer
  3. Co-created = Customer & company
  4. Coalition = Several companies working together for a customer

Symbiosis strategy 1) SHARED VALUE

In the first year of business school, there was a professor visiting from the university of Beging. He told how foreign companies had to integrate in the society in order to become accepted and actually do business in China. Chinese customers required companies to establish their position in the market and become accepted. Company should contribute society by employing people, invest in local production, support local schools and educate people to work for them. It now seems that also western markets are beginning to require higher ethical standards from businesses.

Mr. Michael Porter has developed a theory of “shared value”. Shared value is about creating long-term competitive advantages by engaging with societies in deeper level. He used and examples comparing corporate social responsibility ideology like fair trade as an example. Fair trade pays a little more to farmer in order to improve farmers living conditions and consequently the products cost more in store where consumers eventually pay more too. In shared value example, the company doesn’t pay extra for farmers, but educate them, invest in better transportation capabilities, provide farmers with more effective production capabilities. By doing this, the company now gets higher quality products at the same price as before, only the farmer’s now get 200-300% more income than before. The products cost the same as before, the company has secured production and the farmer and society where the production is done benefits much more than fair trade could ever offer.

Mr. Porter argue that during the past 30 years companies have completely concentrated on maximizing profits. In recent years business increasingly has been viewed as a major cause of social, environmental and economic problems. Companies are benefiting their owners at the expense of broader community. This has put capitalism system under siege.

Symbiosis strategy 2) PLATFORM/STANDARD BASED SYMBIOSIS

There have been symbiotic customer & partner relationships in the past. However, current communications technology, software and service development has resulted an outburst of this business model. It has become more and more evident that companies can simultaneously be interdependent and interproductive towards the ecosystem operating in symbiosis. This model exists with in the ecosystem, but ecosystem can also exist without direct interdependency and –productivity.

An icon for platform based symbiosis and actually, shared value too, is Microsoft with Windows. Windows has led the way as computers have become natural parts of our everyday lives. Windows became the standard along with MS Office’s word, excel and power point and Internet explorer. Due to dominant platform position, other software developers have been capable of cost efficiently developing all sorts of applications and software for it and increased the level of service PC has been capable of delivering for all of us. Windows and other Microsoft products resulted enormous profits for Microsoft but also IBM, Oracle and thousands of other information and communication technology and software companies. Further on, as computers spread so fast Windows also played important role in the Internet revolution. At society level, Microsoft has enabled major increase in profitability at global level. Microsoft in general and especially Windows has changed the world.

Symbiosis strategy 3) CO-CREATED SYMBIOSIS

Co-creation has re-emerged as new way of creating value and business concepts from online environment and created a lot of fuzz as such. In the online environment most games and services would be empty without people interacting on them. The businesses actually rely on customers to create meaning for the frame, platform or game they are providing customers with. World of Warcraft, Facebook, Habbo Hotel, LinkedIn, the list is endless. In these cases the company provides customers a platform for communications, social interaction and fun. Customers co-create the meaning and the company funds their business by selling users attention to advertisers. Advertisers on the other hand also participate in value creation for users and co-create value both ways. In these cases each party act selfishly and use the opportunity of a) great free and fun communication platform as a customer b) great reach and dialogue opportunities as an advertiser c) enjoy the scale and free value creation by users and advertisers enabling commercial success as a platform owner.

Another form of co-creation is the rise of mutual companies. These companies are owned by their customers and have representatives for the owners steering the company.

Wikipedia: A mutual, mutual organization, or mutual society is an organization (which is often, but not always, a company or business) based on the principle of mutuality. A mutual exists with the purpose of raising funds from its membership or customers (collectively called its members), which can then be used to provide common services to all members of the organization or society. A mutual is therefore owned by, and run for the benefit of, its members. Members could benefit from dividends or lower cost of service.

North European countries are welfare states that have a cultural fusion combined from socialist thinking and pure capitalism. In these countries the state has strong role in healthcare, welfare and education. In these countries anyone can study in University and get allowance from State to support your studies. Educational level is at very high level in average in the total population. All this is financed with successful capitalism and taxation that benefit from commercial success of companies, capitalism in a word. North European model could be considered as a model for Shared Value in the state level. As the economic turmoil is shaking ground of how nations are organising the North European model is gaining traction. In this culture Mutual companies are doing very well. For example in banking and retail the market leading players are mutual and other mutual companies are also doing better than companies in average.

Symbiosis strategy 4) COALITION BASED SYMBIOSIS

In 2004 DMA event in New Orleans I was privileged to see when Mr. Robert Gierkink from Loyalty Management UK presented the Nectar –loyalty card case and really showed how it is possible to create Symbiosis between companies in order to create much higher value for customers in order to fight against competitors and really challenge them with pure customer value.

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The core idea of Nectar –loyalty program is to join forces and relationships of several companies in to one single program in order to enable stronger hold of customers in variety of different contexts and also offer higher reward for buying from this coalition. As a brand Nectar program is very skilfully positioned as high value for both coalition partners and customers.

The idea of Nectar was to spread current customer relationship and tie it to new partners enabling effective cross selling operation and increase in sales for all partners resulting a tool for market growth in all participating partner categories. The idea of Symbiosis between partners was very well argumented both rationally and emotionally. This symbiosis materialized as Nectar, which was positioned as a customer servant supporting customer’s individual needs and behaviour in his personal life. Nectar’s role as a program was to give individual advice and hints suitable for your consuming and lifestyle. Nectar does it’s job in order to integrate new brands and companies to customer’s life and rewarding for it.

Nectar worked too, it dropped the cost of acquisition and customer care program by 50%, cost of mailing was 1/44 compared to before. Partner companies like Barclaycard increased their turnover by 9% in the first year and BP sold 4% more at lower cost. In Direct Magazine Sainsbury reported that their responses to Nectar’s targeted mailings in paper and e-mail have increased by 300% and estimated that it has 50% efficiency improvement in understanding and segmenting it’s customers.

After Sainsbury launched Nectar for their customers, according to financial statements, their profit rose 14,2% from previous year and 10,8% in the following. At that point Tesco reacted by doubling their advertising investments and struck back by recruiting new members to their Clubcard program. In the following year Sainsbury’s profit decreased by 2,9% from previous year. However, Nectar profited participating members by coalition Symbiosis and increased value for customers resulting stronger steering power and pull towards companies participating in the program.

Conclusions about Symbiosis

There’s nothing new about synergy. Companies collaborate and have always operated in win-win relationships. However, we feel that most of the companies actually don’t look for the ultimate value proposition but settle for the second best. The four models of symbiosis: Shared value, Platform based, co-created and coalition models often occur in the way that they are combinations to some decree. Still, we think these four distinctive models offer a full perspective of what can be done and where you should look for such opportunities. What we predict and anticipate is a new breed of corporate collaboration, which means new burst of holding companies offering new value propositions based on combined synergy value from different companies concentrating on their core business but creating completely new value in collaboration.

Please comment and contact us about symbiosis strategy. This is the first time we publish this concept and we would love to have it validated academically.

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If you interested in alternative Loyalty strategies check out Loyalty strategies for pragmatists

Here is a whitepaper about how to come up with Symbiosis potential that I wrote way back 🙂 NOTE: in the square with segments from 1-4 the number 3 segment is about Habit driven behavior and that has not been defined in the text.

SEE ALSO

Lost insights and Corporate Blind Spots

Business Design with customer centricity

How to enable smart company and avoid corporate autism

Author: Toni Keskinen, Marketing Architect & Customer Journey Designer

http://www.linkedin.com/in/tonikeskinen

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